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Suit seeks equal services for all of Chicago's parks

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Consider the contrast:

* Tiny Welles Park, nestled in one square block of Chicago's predominantly white Northwest Side, has almost more facilities than it can hold. There are two baseball diamonds, a pair of tennis courts, a large, well-used field house, swings, teeter-totters, and benches scattered in any space not already occupied.

* In Garfield Park, an area well over four times as large in a black, West Side neighborhood, there are proportionately far fewer benches and recreation facilities. The paint on the once spectacular gold dome of the field house is peeling. The lagoon beside it, which looks like a clear blue lake on city maps, is now a dirty gray and no longer the site of summer boating it once was. The lily ponds - put in when well-to-do whites were the park's neighbors - and the swimming pool are no longer filled.

The visual differences hint at deeper financial ones. It is the contrast in dollars paid out for park facilities, programs, repairs, and personnel in white neighborhoods vs. black and Hispanic areas that are at the core of the federal government's recently filed civil-rights suit against the Chicago Park District.

This is the first such federal suit focusing entirely on the issue of equal park services. It is also the Justice Department's first suit under the 1974 Housing and Community Development Act, which authorizes disbursement of Community Development Block Grants. By law that money must chiefly benefit those with low and moderate incomes.

The suit charges that a consistent pattern of discrimination in spending federal funds has evolved over many years. The disparities at the base of the federal suit and another more limited one filed by the Midwest Community Council , a Garfield Park neighborhood group, have been documented by the Chicago Reporter (a monthly journal published by the Community Renewal Society) and by the Chicago Sun-Times.

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